Fans knock socks off to support 'Stros
Minute Maid crowd gives team grand send-off to Chicago
HOUSTON -- The sounds of James Brown and, of course, Queen's "We Are The Champions," reverberated from the jumbo speakers atop the temporary stage on Texas Avenue outside Minute Maid Park on Friday morning.
The city of Houston wanted to give its Astros a grand send-off en route to Chicago for their first World Series in franchise history.
Approximately 4,000-5,000 fans showed up, some skipping work, others skipping school, to honor their team. Fans ranged from the very young, held in their mothers' arms, to the young at heart, including 85-year-old Sister Marian, a native Houstonian who sported an Astros pin on her blue-and-white habit.
Nearly everyone wore some kind of Astros gear, from the recently minted National League Champions T-shirts to a large man in an old orange No. 34 Nolan Ryan jersey. Two girls arrived in bee vests and wings, a tribute to Houston's Killer B's -- Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and the newest addition, Chris Burke.
With Mayor Bill White declaring Friday, Saturday and Sunday "No Socks Days" in Houston, the three lanes barricaded off for the team buses were littered with white socks, thrown disdainfully on the asphalt by fans in disrespect for their newest rival.
Milo Hamilton, the radio voice of the Astros for 21 seasons, warmed up the crowd and led cheers.
"We're going to kick their socks off," bellowed Hamilton, throwing down his own brown hosiery on the stage.
Alan Ashby, the catcher for the 1986 Astros, who lost the National League playoff series to the New York Mets in six games, said there weren't any rallies like this then. Ashby is now Hamilton's partner on radio.
Finally, the five charter buses, fronted by four policemen on motorcycles, turned on to Texas and pulled to a stop in front of the cheering crowd.
White and Astros rookie general manager Tim Purpura appeared from the first bus, carrying the National League championship trophy.
"This is the first trophy," said Purpura, holding it aloft with White. "We'll get the second trophy in a few days."
A public relations director couldn't have arranged a more perfect day -- bright sunshine, not a cloud in sight, the moon still visible, low humidity.
"Great weather, no hurricanes, Houston's on a roll," White told a reporter.
It was a loud, but orderly crowd, typical of this city that does not react to important victories with violence. The Houston Police Department reported only four arrests in connection with Wednesday night's celebrations following the Game 6 clinching win at St. Louis.
Biggio and right-hander Roger Clemens, the Game 1 starter for the World Series, stepped off the second bus in line.
Clemens, in a white dress shirt, black pants with a pinstriped vest and sunglasses, looked like a riverboat gambler.
"OK, OK," he said, finally needing to interrupt the crowd's chants of "Roger, Roger, Roger."
"Thank you fans for the entire year," said Clemens, who will be pitching in his sixth World Series.
Clemens couldn't resist poking fun at one of his teammates.
"One guy who's a little sad is Lance Berkman, because he can't play flag football yet," Clemens said.
It was Berkman who tore up his knee in a flag football game last fall that forced him to miss the first six weeks of this season, a major factor in the Astros' well-documented 15-30 start.
Clemens handed the microphone to Biggio, attired in a black shirt, open collar and sport coat.
The crowd responded with shouts of, "Bi-Gi-O, Bi-Gi-O," the way they had done 30 minutes before the rally started, the way they had done for the last six months and so often in the last 18 years.
"Was it worth the wait?" asked Biggio, who had to wait longer than any other player on the team to get to his first Series. "Forty-four years is a long time. It's an unbelievable feeling. We love you guys."
White, Purpura, Clemens and Biggio boarded their buses, prepared to leave for Intercontinental Airport and the World Series, a place where this city has never been.
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.